radio interview – Adoption Perspectives

Hello all! Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve popped my head in. Reason being (okay there are lots of reasons, but aren’t there always?) I’ve been SICK! Really down in the dumps, hit by a mega-ton bulldozer, sick. Plus the kiddos had one more week of spring break than I thought, meaning they had TWO weeks off, not the usual one week. And yeah, I’m STILL sick. So, to sum it up, this is why the promised post on ABA (Autism) didn’t make it. I’m so bummed because yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day, and I would have loved to write about Autism and share some wonderful insight from others. Crossing my fingers for next week. Until then…
radio show

I have some GREAT news to share amidst all this chaos though. Last Tuesday, before I contracted the flu of the century, I did a radio interview with Rebecca at Adoption Perspectives called Why Grandma and Grandpa’s parenting techniques Don’t Work with Adopted Kids! It was prerecorded, but won’t be edited. Yikes. In the interview we discuss adoption, children who have attachment issues, how raising a hurting child looks different than raising a child whose experienced love from the beginning, and why time-in is better than time-out. You might enjoy hearing her perspective and experiences she’s had with her children whom she adopted as infants.

The show will air on April 5, 2014, you can listen live in the Denver area on April 5th @ 11:00am on 670 KLTT AM.

Adoption Perspectives is supported by Parker Adventist Hospital. “Parker Adventist Hospital is the only hospital in the nation with a comprehensive adoption program.” ~ Rebecca Vahle – You can also find the Adoption Perspectives Radio Show on Facebook by clicking here.
I was honored to be invited to speak on the radio show which showcases so many great voices in the adoption support arena.

*You can now listen to the recording on YouTube: Adoption Perspectives Radio Show.

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7 reasons why time-in NOT time-out (adoption/foster)


Experienced parents often want to share with foster and adoptive parents how to raise their children, they may tell you to put your child in time-out, spank them, and offer a plethora of other solutions. Problem being, a biological child thinks very differently than a child who’s worried about where their next meal will come from, if someone will come when they cry, if that someone who comes will hit or kick them. Raising a hurting child looks different, and that’s okay. Because it looks so different, I am here to give you solutions that do work. So, here are some reasons

why time-in is better than time-out for a hurting child.

1. Sending a hurting child to their room causes them to feel fear.

Many of our children lived in fear before they came to us. They were left alone, or felt lonely before they came to us. They had to provide for themselves, they worried for their life, their safety, their siblings safety. They lived in fear (even infants). Bryan Posts says,

“There are only two primary emotions: love and fear.”

By placing our children in time-out we are sending (unintentionally or not) them back to that fearful place. By keeping them close in a time-in, they don’t feel alone and a need to fight for their safety. Or at least with consistency, they will learn they don’t need to fight, flee, or freeze.

2. Hurting children don’t have the ability to self-regulate.

Hurting children are unable to regulate their emotions, and they need our help. Dr. Bruce Perry says, “When infants and children are incapable of meeting their own needs, they depend upon the external regulation that comes from attentive, caring adults.” When a hurting child is sent away from us to a time-out they are not regulated, and this will send them backwards, healing won’t be taking place. By keeping them close in a time-in we are able to help them regulate their emotions. Or, if they are dysregulated, we can be near them so they can learn we won’t abandon them.

3. Being alone doesn’t heal.

Was your daughter in an orphanage before she came to you? Was your son neglected before you brought him home? Are you doing foster care? Did your child come from foster care? All of these children have been alone. Even infants who went through a tumultuous time in utero can feel alone. Keeping your child near you will aid in the healing process.

“Loneliness is the most significant disability of our time” ~ David Pitonyak

4. A hurting child can’t calm the chaos on their own.

A hurting child’s brain is chaotic and they’re used to the chaos. The trauma your child’s been through has created a brain that looks drastically different than the brain of a child who has been raised with loving and nurturing family members.

A traumatized child tries to recreate that chaos in their real world because the calm makes them uncomfortable.

5. Time-outs don’t build trust.

When we send a child to time-out, they don’t know if they can trust us. A hurting child has difficulty trusting caregivers. Why? Because they have been let down by someone, and those first trust bonds were catastrophically broken. When we keep our child close, they learn that we can be trusted and we won’t send them away for negative behavior.


6. Time-outs don’t build relationships.

Think about a marriage relationship. If a couple is in disagreement about something, it doesn’t usually help if one partner leaves the situation. Neither does it work if the two don’t talk about the issue. In doing so, the problem may go away for a short time, but will surely resurface again.

It’s very similar in your relationship with your kids. Sending them away will not build your relationship, it will put a great big pause button in the middle of it. The Child Trauma website says, “Relationship brings safety, comfort, and soothing.” Relationship is the key element of attachment.

7. The lack of feeling safe makes our kids want to control their    environment.

Your child’s fears stem from their life prior to meeting you. Those fears don’t leave because they have a new family. As I said earlier, trust has been broken, and it will take a long time for trust to build back up. You will need to provide an environment for the assurance of safety and love to grow. What better way to show them they’re safe than having a time-in for negative behavior? Placing them in time-out only capitalizes on their fears of not being safe, and they will then seek control in any area they can.

“When they [traumatized child] sense something is wrong (that the body is stressed), they activate the brain’s alarm systems. These stress-response systems then acts to help the body get what it needs.” – Dr. Bruce Perry


In the post, Why Consequences and Rewards Don’t Work, I give some other ideas on what to do about discipline. I want to reiterate what I said in that post; consequences and rewards won’t make a big difference in your child’s behavior until they have bonded significantly. Yet, it’s still very important to kindly let your children know they aren’t in charge. If your child feels they can do anything they want, they don’t feel safe; boundaries are essential. You can implement some consequences and rewards, which will set a foundation for the future and begin teaching them how to function in a family.

It’s also very important to understand that many times negative behaviors come about because your child is trying to communicate.

Look at what your child is trying to say, are they hungry, tired, frustrated, emotional because something else happened, lonely, wanting one on one attention? Do they have sensory issues? Is their body irritated by their clothing, are the lights bright, is the room noisy, is their chaos? There are so many factors to look at, so try journaling behaviors to see when they happen and what transpired before them. We don’t want to simply discipline our children, we want to find out why they’re acting out. The article How DoYou Support People with Difficult of Challenging Behavior gives great ideas on how to look for the “why” behind a persons behavior.

Time-ins can be accomplished with the child in your lap or if you must complete a task while the child is in time-in, they can be in close proximity. Some of you may question having the child in your lap as a consequence, but as you read above, our children came from different circumstances, so different techniques are used to help them heal. Being in your lap is not a reward, but does keep relationship in play.

I hope this helped explain why time-ins are better than time-out. If someone in your life repeatedly suggests that you put your child in time-out or that your kids need more discipline, feel free to share this with them, maybe it will help them understand your child.

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your likes DON’T = their likes (adoption/foster)

your likes

Do you have expectations that your child will have similar likes as you, or they will be interested in the same hobbies? It’s natural for a parent to want their child to have these ideals, yet it doesn’t always work that way does it?


When parents have biological kids, they sometimes expect that their child will have the same interests they do. A mom who runs will expect her child to go with her, a dad who likes star-gazing will assume his son will climb mountains and gaze through telescopes. When it comes to adoption, some parents take genetic comparisons out of the picture, but expectations still exist that a child should be interested in the same hobbies as the parent.

Parents can also assume that a girl should like Barbies, playing house, and making memory books, and boys should like playing basketball, watching football, and driving remote control cars. Times are changing, but it still happens.

If a child is adopted as an infant, a parent might think the child will adapt to their likes. If a child is adopted or fostered at an older age, and has been in the home for a few years, the parents may expect the child to alter their interests so they match the parents’. This can happen, but…

we all have our individual preferences for activities and hobbies. 

We can argue whether this all comes down to nature versus nurture, but I definitely think both play a part, as well as a persons own predispositions based on their opinions. For example, I love writing, but I don’t come from a family of authors, nor did my parents try to instill in me a literary upbringing.

I’ve seen immense division enter parent/child relationships when the child doesn’t enjoy the same pursuits as the mother or father.

This can happen in biological relationships, but obviously since you’re here, I’m focusing on the adoption and fostering connection.

When attachment issues are already in play, even more division happens between child and parent when hobbies aren’t enjoyed together, when free time is wrought with animosity. Parents become bitter because they feel the child is acting against them in not wanting to spend time engaging in their activities. Children become resentful because they feel their interests aren’t important to their mom or dad.

We need to appreciate and support our child’s interests.

When we accept a persons interests and likes, we are in essence, bondadjustingaccepting who they are, and they feel loved. If your daughter likes to mountain bike on a dirt course, take her, and focus on the fact that she is involved in something and it makes her happy. If your son likes to play the piano, give him time to practice, and don’t badger him about not playing baseball.

It’s okay to encourage your child to be involved in activities they don’t love, such as the child or teen going on a bike ride with the family even though she doesn’t like to. This teaches the child that the world is not ALL about them, how to be a good friend, and it may expand their interests, (and might get them to MOVE). Yet, there needs to be a give and take, where the parent does something with the child that they may not enjoy. Such as a mother playing catch in the backyard with her son.

Bonding means adjusting, and we need to adjust our parenting expectations to what is reality, and reality is that we’re all different.

Have you held any expectations about what your child’s favored activities and hobbies? What can you do to make your child’s interests more of a priority? My wish is that you would be able to enjoy your time with your kids.
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time + time + time (adoption/foster)


This world is full of immediate gratification. We can ask Siri and she will answer, we don’t even have to look on the internet. And speaking of the internet, we can look up anything we want, buy anything we want, whenever we want. We have fast food and fast flavored coffee, immediate books on our iPad (yes, I’m an Apple junky), and we can start our car from inside a building. (I don’t have that feature on my car, but I sure do want one.)

Because everything in our society is instant, parents think they’re hurting children should be bonded within months of entering their life. They think their child’s negative behaviors, should stop, they should lull off to a sweet slumber, and they should understand consequences and the rules of the house within a short period of time (and a few months is a relatively short amount of time).

I think of what happened to hurting children like tearing down a garage. We tore ours down to build a larger one and add a level on top, the deconstruction was quick and not too difficult (for big, strong, burly guys anyway). However, the rebuilding process takes a LONG time, it’s detailed, involved, it’s time consuming, and it’s stressful.

For some children, the tearing down process didn’t take long, even infants are greatly affected in a short amount of time by neglect, abuse, and trauma. Children are even affected in utero by what the birth mother does or doesn’t do. Just as a garage demolition doesn’t take long, neither did it take long for our children to be broken down.

And, just as the building up process takes a long time when creating a new deservecommitmentstructure, so does the building up of our children. It takes work, dedication, compassion, and understanding.

None of us want to face a battle and know it won’t end tomorrow. I find it helpful to remember what happened to the hurting child, and where they came from. Their trauma affected them beyond what we can see. So, focus on the positives and keep moving forward, you can do this.

Here are some links to help you out:
why consequences and rewards don’t work
the importance of consistency & routine
detecting attachment issues
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)

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what’s on their mind? (adoption/foster)

Something about negative behavior struck me when I read the fourth part in the Reuter’s series The Child Exchange. (You can read my opinion on The Child Exchange – aka adoption disruption here.) The Reuters investigation shares the devastating story of Anna Barnes, a girl who was born in Russia, orphaned (although she didn’t know her mother had died, the news had been shared with her via a second party) at the age of six, and adopted by an American family at age eight. In fifth grade, she was sent to military school, and in sixth grade, she was called into the office and told, “We thought it would be fun for you. Instead of going to a military school this year, we’re going to send you to a horse ranch in Texas, and you’re going to stay there for three months, then you’re going to come back.”

A couple named Gary and Lisa Barnes showed up at the horse ranch and decided to adopt Anna. She says of her first adoptive family, “I just couldn’t see them doing this to their real son. I felt very betrayed.” Anna says, “I didn’t get to go home and say bye to my brothers and sisters. I didn’t get to say good-bye to my mom and dad.” Anna shared her thoughts on how she felt about being with the Barnes, she told them repeatedly “I don’t want to be here, I want to go home,” and that her home was in Indiana with John and Jill (her first adoptive parents).

Gary and Lisa said Anna had behavior issues they couldn’t handle, so they found her a new home. Anna’s story doesn’t end here, she continued to be abandoned.

There’s something we can learn from her heartbreak, and it’s evident when you hear her share what she’s been through. She felt something should have taken place, a major life event – going back to her first adoptive family, and that didn’t happen. She had already lost her birth family, lived in a Russian orphanage (I don’t care what anyone says about them, they aren’t acceptable and many are deplorable), and she was given up by the family (John and Jill) who promised to care for her as their own. She desired one thing, to go back to that family, and she made it particularly clear.

I saw this same situation transpire with a girl who was adopted from Africa. Some of you have heard about the unethical adoption practices that can take place in third world countries. It happened to a girl named Zenia*. Her mother, who was living in a poor village, was told by a woman that if she could not provide for her daughter that Zenia could be sent to an American family, and she’d be able to see her daughter again in one year. Zenia was told the same.

Zenia was adopted by a wonderful American family who had adopted other older children internationally. Those children were doing very well, but they always seemed perplexed by Zenias continued behavior issues and indignation. After being with the family for one year, Zenia finally shared with them what she had been told. She felt that they weren’t her parents because her mom was waiting for her in Africa.

The question here isn’t whether these children’s wishes could be granted or not, because they can’t (or at least it wasn’t likely for Anna, and it wasn’t possible for Zenia) the question is, what can a parent do about it?

Ask your children questions about their adoption. You will need to use your intuition to determine whether your child is capable of handling information about their pre-adoption experience. I don’t withhold information, but I also don’t give all the details. If a child was older at the time of adoption, it’s probably okay to talk about what happened before they came to you, because they likely remember it.

Many times behavior issues in adopted children stem from a lack of true attachment, in the situations above, I would treat it the same as an attachment issue. No matter what their pain stems from, a child always needs to make attachments.

If, in the case of Zenia, she wants to return to her birth mother, you could discuss why her mother made the choice she did, being sure to alleviate any guilt the child would have of it being her fault. You can tell her that those who told her she could go back and visit in a year lied to her and that you knew nothing about it. Share what adoption means with her, that in front of a court and judge you promised to be her mother/father forever. If you want to consider making a trip to Africa so she can visit, discuss it with your spouse and be confident it’s really possible before saying anything to your child.

Your child may not be struggling with the same situations listed here. Many of our children have similar stories, but some are vastly different. Your child may be holding onto something else, it may be a need for control (this is an element most hurting adopted kids deal with), or they are worried about moving again. These are concerns that are difficult to label, and that is why beginning to open communication is key.

Sometimes negative behaviors can be a sign of a child’s anger over what they want or don’t want to take place (as in both cases I mentioned). That’s why it’s good to talk about feelings, because that can get your child to open up and share more of what’s on their mind. Opening up dialogue with your child will help too.

Our hurting children are strong, they are strong because life has taught them to stick it out or die. They will use that strong will to get what they want, and if what they want is their birth family or first adoptive family (even if they have perfected a horrible situation in their mind), then it will take explanation and attachment for them to see it differently. They still might yell and scream that you aren’t their “real” family, or they hate you and don’t want you to be their dad, but stick with it. Showing your child continually that you will not abandon them will sink in. Eventually they will see that you aren’t going anywhere.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Have you ever found that getting to what’s really bothering your child helped alleviate anger or anxiety? I love comments, so share you thoughts!

Some additional links that may help:
the lies hurting children believe
the magic word
it’s your fault, mom
the intelligence behind a hurting child

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just deal with it (feelings: part 4) – (adoption/foster)

Were you raised by a parent who told you to “just deal with it?” Were you taught to ignore your feelings or that they weren’t important? If we tell our hurting children to just deal with it without giving them a listening ear, and tools for how to handle their feelings, it won’t help your child develop emotionally, and a significant component of our children’s struggles are with their BIG emotions.

Todays post is the last installment of the four-part series on feelings, specifically how to deal with feelings. In the post Be Available (feelings: part 3), I went over talking to your kids about their emotions and feelings, which is the stepping stone for how your child will be able to handle what’s going on inside of them.

Now your child needs assistance with how to handle those BIG feelings. In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry says, “The more anxious someone is the harder it is for him to accurately recall and describe his feelings, thoughts and history. But most critically, when a child is anxious it is much more difficult to form a positive relationship, the true vehicle for all therapeutic change.” Obviously our goal with our children is to form a positive relationship, because if we don’t have a positive relationship with our child, no attachment will take place.

The way to help alleviate the anxiety your child is experiencing is to create a basis of labeling feelings. As they develop a firmer grasp on what specific feelings are, you identify them in your child, yourself, and others. You can then move on and talk about ways to deal with each feeling if needed.

If your child is anxious, you can give him options for calming, such as a stress ball or something he can squeeze in his hand. Drawing is also great to express any emotion (Carol Lozier has a wonderful APP on her website that lets a child do this).

If your child is angry and hitting, you can give her something to hit; a drum or a pillow. You give words at the same time if your child hits you. For more verbal kids, you concisely explain that they shouldn’t hit. For young kids, or ones who don’t have a lot of language, you can say, “Hands off” if they are hitting something inappropriate (a t.v.), or “Be gentle” when that child is hitting you, then redirect them to something they can hit. Telling a child who doesn’t grasp language, “Don’t hit” is counter productive because they only process the last word, “hit.”

A child who is hitting is trying to express a feeling, or something they want to tell you, and I explain this more in detail in The Behavior Battle. If you have a good idea of what your child is feeling and why your child is hitting, go ahead and give her the words, “You’re mad because you had to leave (our friends) house.”

My son, Jeremiah, is four, has Autism and doesn’t talk, but as he’s gained language comprehension, we’ve talked about being mad, sad, and scared. We don’t talk about the more complex feelings such as lonely and frustrated because he wouldn’t understand them yet. (You can use those words with any child who is developing typically.) It has been really cool to see his response when we label how he’s feeling. He will be crying (his go to reaction when he’s angry, frustrated, or scared is to cry or throw himself), and I will name how he might be feeling, “You’re mad because you have to leave your toy here.” He will now stop crying when I get it right! Sometimes he’ll begin crying again, but it’s great that he can calm down, even if it’s short-lived, when he recognizes that I understand how he’s feeling. This is an enormous improvement over what he used to do – just cry.

It’s kind of like when you’re dealing with something and you talk to a friend and they get it, they listen to you vent, and they acknowledge what you’re going through. We can walk away from that interaction and feel better and not so alone.

The same thing has happened with my daughter, Payton, who is farther ahead developmentally. One day she was wailing in the backseat, something hadn’t gone her way. I told her I was disappointed because something hadn’t gone my way in the same situation she was crying about. You know what? She immediately stopped crying because I was empathizing with her, and she noticed how I was handling my disappointment.

Before your child has made some attachments, their response to some of this will be anger, but you still want to listen to them, show them you care, and help them label and deal with their feelings. It’s all part of the attachment process.

Some other ways to deal with big feelings is to have your child take in a deep breath and smell the flowers, and blow hard to put out the candle. There are dozens of APPS for learning about feelings, a few are listed here (but remember you are their greatest teacher). An APP that my daughter likes is Toca Boca band, your child can make a band with different instruments and sounds. This helps a child express feelings.

Don’t allow your kids to express their emotions in hurtful ways, but give them avenues to convey what they need to. Always be available to listen and talk to your children about anything.

Throughout this series have you been able to talk to your kids about their feelings? How did it go? I would love to hear from you!

Check out the other posts in this series:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)

connecting with compassion (adoption/foster)

This article originally appeared in Adoption Today’s June 2013 issue.

Connecting with Compassion
by Tracy Dee Whitt

A few years ago, while my son was still in foster care, a social worker visited our home. During her short stay, my daughter, Payton, sat on my lap, we were singing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and going through the actions.

As the Worker watched us, she said, “It’s weird to think, but you’re teaching her to be a mom.” She continued, “It’s sad, but so true. So many children don’t get this.” She was referring to children in neglectful and abusive situations where the parents ignore the needs of their children.

This truth is something I have learned and seen repeatedly since we entered the world of foster care. As parents, we are modeling for our children (even our babies) how to be empathetic, compassionate, and loving. Problem being, when children are neglected or abused, they don’t receive this positive attention, nor do they reciprocate.

The book Ghosts from the Nursery shares an example of how parent/child interactions affect how humans learn to care for their own children, in a true story about a girl named Monica. As a newborn, Monica was fed through a tube in her stomach. For two years she was fed laying flat on her back without any bodily contact. Later, another tube was inserted in her neck, hence, it limited how Monica could be held and her mother became depressed and withdrawn. At the age of three, Monica was able to eat normally, and she grew up with no conscious memories of her early tube feedings. Yet, Monica mimicked how she had been fed when playing with her dolls. Monica eventually had children, and even though her mother, husband, and sister all instructed her to hold her babies close to her in a face-to-face position, she consistently rejected close body or face-to-face contact with her babies while feeding them.

The Worker in our home that day, said, “You’re teaching her to be a mom,” but the bigger truth is that we are teaching our children how to live life. Not much comes naturally to a child who has attachment issues. Every day, every hour, every moment, we need to reprogram what was instilled in their hearts and minds.

The little girl who was sitting in my lap singing had been placed in foster care because of neglect and trauma. The Worker making that comment had no idea of the effort it took to get my adopted daughter, Payton, to sit in my lap and sing with me.

Payton had come to us so completely broken, with a vacant look in her eyes. When her other foster mother dropped her off with us, she didn’t cry. She awoke the next morning in a strange house, unfamiliar room, different bed, and two odd adults, but she laughed and the joy didn’t reach her eyes. It was on or off, a distant gaze or laughter as a coping mechanism.

Payton would fall and hit her head really hard, but no sound would escape her lips. She should have cried. Why didn’t she? Because, as an infant, no one had answered her cries with affection. She’s an intelligent child and she had quickly learned to shut it off. No one comes when I cry, so why put forth the effort?
I began running to her whenever she bumped herself or fell, it didn’t matter if I thought it hurt or not. I picked her up, hugged her, and asked if she was okay. Many months later, I was ecstatic when she started following me around the house. Our work was far from done, but she was aware that someone cared about her. The whole trust factor would take years to develop fully, but I remember this moment fondly. I had won a small battle, and I knew we could move forward with hope.

One of the important keys to helping a child with attachment issues is to remember where they came from. Sometimes it’s painful to recall those memories, but if we forget what their problems stem from, we lose compassion and the drive to help our child.

In the Ghost from the Nursery story I shared, Monica wasn’t held close when she was an infant, her mother then fell into a deep depression, therefore affecting Monica for the rest of her life. Her mother didn’t know how to compensate for the absent affection. What our children experience will impact them and their attitude toward life.

Think about your child. You may not know all the details of their life prior to meeting them, but you can imagine what it was like. Did your daughter spend several months in an orphanage? What was the institution like? There isn’t an orphanage with enough staff to care for the needs of an infant or child who has been abandoned. Was your son left to fend for himself on the streets in another country? Was your daughter orphaned by AIDS, and made to seek food and shelter on her own? In Monica’s case, a situation as simple as a depressed parent, who no longer has the ability to properly care for their child, can cause a child to have attachment issues.

Be mindful of the trauma your child may have experienced, and how much it will take to heal their hearts. All the work you put in will pay off, there is hope at the end of the long road. Our daughter is a testament that your child can form the bond you desire.

no really, good night (sleep issues: part 2) – (adoption/foster)

There seem to be many common themes among adopted children, and one of those is sleep issues. When I wrote about why children have sleep issues on Friday, it received the most views of all my posts this month, and I believe this is because many adopted children have difficulty falling and staying asleep. In this post, I will talk about what we can do to help our children, but first, if you haven’t read why “good nights” are illusive (sleep issues: part 1), I hope you do. Reason being, we have to familiarize ourselves with what’s at the heart of our children’s sleep disturbances before we can help them in a compassionate way.

Now let’s get some rest! How? You ask. First, let’s look at some simple steps to take. You may have already tried these, and if you have, don’t worry, a more in depth plan will follow in this post.

  • Routine – Consistency and schedules are especially important for children who have been adopted. Even if your child came from a foster home in Korea that had the sweetest foster mom, your child has gone through a lot of change, and routine is essential.
    Have a calming routine before bed that does not include screen time, rambunctious activity, bright lights, or sugary snacks. (Preferably only veggies if they’re hungry. Because of food issues and adopted kids, we never deny our daughter food. But she’s a good eater, so she will eat baby carrots before bed if she’s hungry. You can choose the most nutritious food your child will eat.)
  • Rocking – You can read all about rocking (I’m not just talking about infants) and it’s proven benefits here. Rocking can be done with any child that can sit in your lap. I suggest every parent rock their adopted child (for teens, you can incorporate other rhythmic movement during the day, ideas can be found in the previous link), and rocking before bed will help calm your child.
  • Quiet – Be sure that your child’s room is quiet. If their mind is working overtime any noise will keep them alert and make their mind wander. Any noise coming from outside their room will make them obsess about what’s being said or done and what they’re missing out on. They want to join the party! In fact, they want to be in the center of it. 🙂
  • Calming music – Just try it. Don’t listen to any other parenting advice about how they’ll get used to it, and won’t be able to sleep without it. If they can’t, so what. They’re sleeping! Our daughter has her lullaby (no words) music on for nap time and at night, and we don’t need it when we’re on vacation. It does that extra little bit to keep other noises from seeping into her brain, and lulls her to sleep.

As for naps, yes, our daughter is five and she still takes naps. No, we NEVER imagined this would happen during our years of battling sleep issues. We thought she’d given up naps at age two, and I wasn’t happy about it. But then she started napping. It was as if she started making up for all those years of lost sleep, and very shallow sleep.

  • Night light – (Make sure it isn’t too bright, and if your child’s taking a nap, be sure that the room is dark enough during the day.) Most parents think of this one, but just want to cover all the bases. If your child has fears, which all adopted kids will have some. I mean if you’re human, you have fears, and a night light can help relieve some fear of the dark.

The above solutions seem fairly simple, but if in the past, you’ve had children who fell asleep easily it may not occur to you to try these different resolutions. My daughter’s Grandma is a perfect example of this. She’s been running an in-home daycare for forty years, and in that time she hasn’t taken care of one adopted child. I have to assume that every child who has ever entered her home takes naps without a fuss.

Then my daughter enters the dynamic. She needed to take the occasional nap at Grandma’s during daycare hours. It didn’t work. Why? Because Grandma didn’t set the room up for Payton to have a restful nap. First, Payton’s amped up because she’s at Grandma’s and loves to be around the other kids. Second, noise, noise, noise, and for her, this doesn’t work, her brain cannot shut down without a quiet place to rest. Third, light. Forth, it was a warm house. I wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep, and I am usually running on some barely there exhaust fumes. The sleep situation wasn’t conducive to sleep, so we must make sure that is taken care of first.

Now we’ll move to the more complex, but often necessary plan to help your child fall asleep and stay asleep. The following ideas are going to take time, but they are proven to work. You may come up with reasons why you can’t carry out this plan, but I encourage you to try everything possible to follow through with it.

Getting your child to sleep has many benefits, all of which I am sure you are aware. A tired parent can become easily irritated, impatient, and forgetful. A tired child can become irritable, angry, excessively hungry, have a short attention span, have an inability to focus (and the list goes on). This will cause problems at home and at school. I am not saying sleep is going to solve all your child’s behavior problems, because it won’t, but wouldn’t it be nice if it took care of some of them?

It’s best if the following plan be accomplished with both parents. If your child is attached to one parent and will not let the other parent put them to bed, have that parent help in another area of the house; putting another child to bed, washing dishes, picking up the house. Try to get on the same page and work together. (Have your spouse read my first post on sleep issues so they understand why this needs to be done, and read this one as well.)

The plan below is what helped our daughter truly fall asleep and stay asleep. It was also a big part of our bonding experience because it shows the child in a physical way that we’re there for them. We can tell our child all we want that we won’t leave them, and they are safe, but they can SEE and trust the physical more readily.

I encourage you to begin with the steps listed above: routine, rocking, quiet, calming music, and a dark room during the day and a night light at night.

Make sure all of your child’s needs are met before going to bed, make it part of your routine if needed. Have them get the drink of water, go potty, blow their nose, put on chapstick, get the bear, get the blanket. Whatever it is that your child asks you for after bed, make sure it’s done before they go to their room for the night.

Each of these steps we did for an average of two weeks (some were longer). There is no set pattern, as each child is different. Just make sure you do it long enough so as not to set the whole process back.

  • After you have finished the above routine, and put your child in bed, sit next to your child’s bed and hold his hand while he falls asleep. If your child won’t hold your hand, lay your hand on his back. Be sure your child is asleep (deep rhythmic breathing) before you leave their side.
    If your child wakes during the night, go to him and do the same thing. If there’s a storm, make considerations to let him sleep in your room (check regulations for foster children – maybe you can camp out on the floor, or all camp in the living room if there’s more than one child).
  • After you’ve held your child’s hand for as long as needed (a couple of weeks or more), move away from his bed. Make your self comfortable, lay down with a pillow and take a nap.
  • Now you will move to the doorway and sit just inside his room until he falls asleep.
  • Next move outside his door, but leave the door open. If he says anything, reassure him you are there.
    You may be sitting outside your child’s door longer than you were in their room because you are now out of sight. Over time your child will begin to trust that you’re going to be there, as along as you really are (and they will know).
  • If you close your child’s door at night, it will take an extra step. If you’ve never closed your child’s door at night, there’s no need to now (unless of course it’s too noisy). If you do begin closing the door, expect some anxiety, because this will be a big change for your child. If needed, close your child’s door and sit outside his room. If he calls for you, reassure him that you are there.

*The above plan was recommended by Scott Chaussee of Ariel Clinical Services.

Always consider what is happening in your child’s world to cause sleep disturbances. Think about what happened that day, what is going to happen in the next week or month. Anxiety can really cause a lot of behaviors in our children and the inability to fall asleep is a big one. As your child bonds, they will become less anxious, but it is still something to always be mindful of.

It has been about three years since we did this whole routine with our daughter, Payton, yet it is clearly embedded in her mind. When she puts her babies and animals to sleep, she places a chair outside her door and reads a book. That’s exactly what we did with her. Thankfully she doesn’t yell and scream from her chair, telling her babies to be quiet. At least we did one thing right.

We have seen so many families that adopted their children around the same time as us, yet their kids still aren’t sleeping. Some of them have seven and eight-year-olds who aren’t sleeping well. These families weren’t willing to look at what was causing the sleep issues and neither were they willing to put the time and effort into dealing with it.

This is a short investment for a long term gain. It will probably take a few months, and some lost time with your spouse, but in the end, you will be so glad you did it. I know we are. In the end, using this technique will help everyone in the family.

*Bonding is what will heal your child and help them rest, so check out my other posts on attachment: Rocking & Attachment

*Another post that might be of interest: what happens when hurting children can’t sleep?

  • I would like to talk about sleep aids. I feel that there is a time and place for natural remedies, even medication. In fact, we tried a natural remedy (for sleep) with our daughter and it didn’t work. However, I believe there is an underlying cause for most of our children’s sleep issues, and if we don’t get to the bottom of it (or bond – even at night by showing them they are safe) the lack of sleep will continue and won’t be dealt with at the level it needs to be.

I hope these ideas help your family. May you all begin to rest!
If you have comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you.

a parent getaway (adoption/foster)

An adoptive mom recently contacted me, asking what she should do about an upcoming missions trip and her young son. Her little guy is newly adopted, he has struggled with attachment issues, but is making some exceptional basic bonds with his new mom. This mother had volunteered to help cook, and act as a chaperon for this missions trip, and now she was feeling like she shouldn’t leave her son. She felt torn between going on this trip with her older children and being there for him. In her heart, she knew the answer, but wanted confirmation. After we talked, she was able to get her older daughter to take her place on the missions trip, and she still took her little guy. She was able to be there for her older children and have quiet time for her little guy when he needed it.

The question is often asked, should you leave your child while you go on vacation, a parent only getaway, or to a conference? This is a question that has a few facets to consider.

First, who is going and what is the purpose? If you are a single parent and need to get away to breathe, or you are married and need some time alone with your spouse, in my opinion it’s good to do this briefly on occasion. If you’re taking other children and are leaving a child with someone else, I don’t recommend doing so. For the child left behind, nothing good will come of leaving them. In fact, if you have made progress with them, it will likely get thrown in reverse. And if you haven’t bonded with your adopted or foster child, it’s still not a good idea. You may say, “But they ruin everything.” Remember they aren’t doing this because of you, and those things they do to make your life difficult stem from fear. They will push you to see if you will still love them. If you leave your child, it will cause fear, no matter what they may say.

Second, consider who they will stay with. My first choice is always someone the child knows really well. If you absolutely HAVE to go away, and you don’t have someone your child knows well, I would consider planning far in advance and get to know the respite care provider. Plan get togethers and play dates so you and your child get acquainted with them. If, for any reason you feel uncomfortable with a person watching your child, don’t leave your child with them.

Third, consider where your child is in the bonding process. If your child is recently showing signs of attachment, I wouldn’t suggest leaving them. They are in a critical stage of bonding and they need to depend on you and know you won’t leave. No matter what you say to your child, they will not trust that you’re coming back, and it will instill that fear I mentioned earlier.

If you have planned a getaway, there are some ways to help it go better. I recently heard a mom talk about sending her kids to their Dad’s house for the summer. She knew her children would have a difficult time being away from her, so she put her favorite t-shirt in a ziplock bag and sent it with them. She told them to take it out whenever they missed her. If you do this, I would suggest wearing it and putting it in the bag unwashed so it smells like you. Also make sure your child has their favorite stuffed animal and blankets when you leave. Sometimes kids who have been moved around don’t have specific favorite items, but find something that they seem to like.

The Attachment and Trauma Network had a webinar on “Getting Your Ducks in a Row Before You Go,” that offered some excellent tips on helping your child handle your absence. Note: Their focus was a parent going to a conference, but their tips can be used for any getaway that a parent is going on. Here is a link to their printout of ideas: Attachment & Trauma Network 

Here is a summary of a few suggestions they expound upon:

  • Scheduled phone calls or Skype/Facetime – (I suggest calling every day.)
  • Keeping continuity with their every day routines.
  • If your child understands rewards (remember they won’t until they have bonded some) and will work for them, their caregiver can reward them each day. Don’t set the standards too high.
  • A calendar marked with the day you leave and the day you return. (A couple months ago, we went on a bi-yearly 🙂 weekend away. We had told our daughter, Payton, that we’d be gone two nights and three days. When we picked her up at Grandma’s house, she put her hands on her hips and said, “You said you’d be gone two days, and that was three.” Well, if we’d given her a calendar that probably wouldn’t have been an issue.)

I hope these tips help you and your family through the transitions and fears of spending time away from each other. Are there any additional ideas that helped your family when you prepared to leave, and while you were away?

play = bonding time (adoption/foster)

I came across this great post on the Tapestry website called “What’s Your Play Personality?”

Life can be overwhelming when you have children with special needs. I could make a list that runs a mile long, but it comes down to making time to play with our kids. Want to know what you can spend a ton of time doing and you won’t regret a single moment? Playing with your kids. The rewards are plentiful. We never know what tomorrow may bring for any of us, and playing with our children helps them bond with us.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts here, we will not make progress with our children’s behaviors until they have bonded with us. Check out the above link to see what types of play you like to engage in and tailor it to your child’s likes. Don’t forge their play personality either, show them that you care enough to spend time doing what they’re interested in.

You can also find posts on play and how it forms initial bonds here: let’s bond already – creating attachments with an adopted child.

And more posts on attachment:
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)

attachment in adoption: the first things we need to know